By Grace Thornton
The Alabama Baptist
It’s been nearly 78 years since Betty Durham Bryant’s wedding day, but she promises she can still smell the biscuits and bacon cooking the morning of her wedding. The memory that she didn’t get a bite of them stays burned in her mind.
It was a big day — May 17, 1941. She (at the time simply Betty Durham) and Leonard Bryant had decided on the spur of the moment to make it their wedding day.
While Betty was home from Auburn University on a school break a few months earlier she met Leonard at the boarding house her parents ran in Birmingham. He’d come there to live in the city. His parents ran a farm in the Oneonta area and that’s how he knew B.F. Dykes, pastor of First Baptist Church, Oneonta.
A big day
Betty and Leonard both had the day off work, and they had seen Leonard’s sister have a lovely wedding the week before in Dykes’ living room. They had decided they wanted to do the same thing.
But they soon would find out Dykes had a big day planned too.
It was the next-to-last day of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting, which had been happening that week at Municipal Auditorium (now Boutwell Auditorium) in downtown Birmingham. The crowd had packed it out every day, to the point that Betty Bryant says she had tried at one point to go but had left because she felt claustrophobic.
That’s what Dykes was trying to avoid — he was planning to be there early to get a seat.
“Southern Baptists were coming to Birmingham, and he was not going to miss a minute of the convention,” said the Bryants’ daughter, Catherine Allen, who told the story to The Alabama Baptist.
Dykes planned to stay at his brother’s house in the Avondale neighborhood for exactly that reason — to get there faster. He wasn’t planning to fit a wedding into his schedule. But Leonard Bryant told Dykes that Avondale was more convenient for them anyway since they were in Birmingham. Why couldn’t he just do it there in his brother’s living room? Dykes finally agreed.
So at 7 a.m. that Saturday, right as the sun was coming up, the couple rolled up at Dykes’ brother’s house in Avondale with the bride’s mother and uncle.
That’s when Betty smelled the biscuits.
“The innocent young bride thought it was wonderful for their minister to have arranged a wedding breakfast for them. She was starved,” Allen said. “Mr. Dykes met them at the door as he swallowed his biscuit and buttoned his suit coat. In the living room he led them to say their vows. Then he showed them out — no breakfast for them. He returned to his place at the family table and no doubt was soon out the door.”
It was a little bit of a violation of propriety, Allen said with a laugh, but she can understand why he didn’t want to be late. She said she’s sure Dykes had a great day at the convention — he heard Texas pastors George W. Truett of First Baptist Church, Dallas, and J.M. Dawson of First Baptist Church, Waco, among others.
And the Bryants enjoyed a great life.
The newlyweds left their sunrise ceremony and drove across town to their new apartment to start unpacking. They chose a church together — First Central Baptist Church, Tarrant City, and then later Ruhama Baptist Church, Birmingham.
Start of a new family
That breakfast-less wedding during the Southern Baptist Convention started a new family — they bore five children and were married for 34 years before Leonard Bryant died in 1975.
“Mama is now 98 years old still living in Birmingham. She told her family the story,” Allen said —
particularly the fragrance of biscuits in the oven and bacon in the skillet that morning so many years ago.
Do you have a story connected to the 1941 SBC annual meeting held in Birmingham? If so we would like to hear it. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.